In the wake of federal authorities charging two former University of San Diego basketball players and an ex-assistant coach with being part of a plot to fix games, we've gotten curious about point-shaving. Specifically: how is it done?
First a primer: Point shaving, unlike throwing games, doesn't mean letting the other team win. It just means making sure your team fails to cover the point spread--a missed layup here, a bad pass there, a clanked free throw at the end of regulation. CCNY won the national championship in 1950 despite shaving points. The one downside: point shaving by an NCAA athlete is a federal crime.
Step 1: Find a player
Players in need of extra spending money are invariably tempting targets for gamblers. A 1985 Sports Illustrated report says John Williams, a central figure in the point shaving that ended the school's basketball program, "received $900 for helping make sure Tulane failed to cover the 10-point spread it was favored by over Southern Mississippi," then took "$4,500 for helping ensure that the team lose the Feb. 20 game to Memphis State by more than the seven-point spread." Once you have one player, it become easier to recruit others. The Associated Press says the Arizona State point shaving scandal of the mid-1990s started as one teammate helping out another. "Deep in debt from gambling, Stevin Smith asked Arizona State teammate Isaac Burton Jr. in 1994 if he would miss some free throws against Oregon State, if needed." That marked the start of "one of the worst sports betting scandals in U.S. history," one that ended with both players in jail.